By Scott Coopwood, HT.com blogger
The month of July never passes without me reflecting on the many summers I spent on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My great-uncle and aunt from Shelby had a summer home in Pass Christian. Every July, my parents dropped me off there and for four weeks the coast would be mine.
Our neighborhood on Poindexter Drive was full of families from New Orleans who also had summer getaways. I spent many hours with those children riding around in boats, waterskiing, catching and boiling crab, walking the beach on Henderson Point at night with a Coleman lantern in one hand and a nail stuck in the end of a cutoff broom in the other catching flounder.
We also fished around Cat Island, and so much more. In September of 1965, Hurricane Betsy hit the coast. My great-uncle was able to repair his home without much effort. In August of 1969, a more powerful storm landed on the coast, Hurricane Camille. Camille damaged our home significantly.
Several of my great-uncle’s friends, who had “ridden out” Hurricane Betsy in our neighborhood a few years before, thought they could stay in their homes during Camille. They did not survive. Camille was a wake-up call to all of the people who lived in our neighborhood. In fact, after Camille, several families did not return.
The worst was yet to come: Hurricane Katrina. In high school, I took my Delta friends down there and in college I took my college friends. In the late 1980s, my great-uncle stopped going to his coast home because of his age and my great-aunt’s physical condition. Upon their deaths, my mother inherited the home and lived in it for several years before she sold it and built another house in Long Beach around 2000.
An end of an era for my family had finally come to pass. In 2006, almost one year to the day after Hurricane Katrina devastated the coast, Cindy, the children, and I were driving to Gulf Shores and took a detour to show them where I had spent a portion of my life. About 60 miles north of Gulfport on Highway 49, we began to see the incredible damage Katrina had inflicted. The number of concrete slabs where homes once stood began to increase. Trees were still there, however, to our amazement, a year after the storm there was still no vegetation on them.
The closer we got to Gulfport, the more the area looked like a war zone. After winding our way down Beach Highway and having to take detours because several roads were still closed, we finally pulled into our old driveway. The home had been destroyed and nothing remained. My two boys asked questions about the home. I used only a few words to answer because I was so stunned at the devastation I simply could not respond in complete sentences.
We found a few pieces of green tile from the guest bathroom in the grass and that was it. I believe I experienced the coast at its peek during the years I spent there. Back then, Beach Highway consisted of Natchez, Mississippi-styled grand homes, restaurants, boutique retail stores, and tons of New Orleans people.
All of this is now gone, and the coast is a different place. Not bad, but different. Yes, the month of July never passes without me reflecting on the many wonderful summers I spent on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.